The title ticker flicks to six. The Bulls overcame an 18-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Orlando Magic 93-88 and grab a 2-0 Eastern Conference series lead. Observations:
A team effort
This game was such that The Sports Channel's player of the game award was bestowed upon 'The Chicago Bulls.'
At a glance, that may feel peculiar. Only three Bulls tallied double-figure point totals (Jordan, Pippen, Rodman) and as a group they shot 40% from the field. But this one was truly a clinic in smothering defense, and contributions from all around made it possible.
Pippen's length and work on the glass (he had six offensive rebounds) seemed to impact the game at its most crucial moments. Ron Harper ended the night with two steals, but you could have said he had 10 and I would have believed you. He was everywhere, and continues to cement himself as on the short-list of most underrated contributors during the dynasty. Rodman and the team's rotating cast of bigs played a huge role in bottling Shaq as the Bulls made their decisive third-quarter run. Jud Buechler and Steve Kerr poured in timely buckets. The team's fullcourt press ground the Magic down to perfection.
The Bulls defense was so suffocating in the final 4 minutes of the 3rd that Orlando was barely able to even get the ball to Shaq. #BullsRewind— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) April 4, 2020
All in all, it amounted to flipping a 15-point halftime deficit (which in the third quarter grew to 18) into a five-point victory — and a demoralizing one at that. Fifty-three first-half points by the Magic against this team was a feat. Their 35 in the latter half compared to 55 for the Bulls) felt a correction. Soul-snatching stuff.
The 15-point halftime deficit remains the largest the Bulls have overturned to win a game in the team's playoff history. #BullsRewind— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) April 4, 2020
A different time
The United Center was an absolute madhouse, you could feel it through the television screen. These Bulls give 'flipping the switch' new meaning.
Penny gets the "Hit The Road, Jack" treatment after his 6th foul sends MJ to the FT line and the UC crowd is loving it. #BullsRewind— Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck) April 4, 2020
It all culminated with 'MVP' chants for Michael Jordan in the game's waning moments, as he put the finishing touches on a 35-point, six-assist, four-steal outing. It is astounding how routine he makes these types of nights look.
And, oh yeah. This was a thing.
No, I mean a really different time
In a playoff run filled with celebrities, this has to be the most riotous beneficiary of a Rodman jersey toss so far:
Chicago really was the center of the basketball universe.
Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.
It's day 74 of self-quarantine, and Zach LaVine bowed out of the players-only NBA 2K20 tournament on ESPN with a 57-41 first-round loss to Deandre Ayton.
Ayton played as the Houston Rockets. LaVine played as the Miami Heat. Yes, that means he was controlling Jimmy Butler, who the Bulls swapped for LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to Lauri Markkanen to spark the rebuild three short years ago.
Fortunately, no stats are available from this one, so I am physically incapable of breaking down Butler's performance (though a few bricked layups stand out). But LaVine did struggle to get offense all game, scoring just four points in the fourth quarter after trimming a nine-point deficit down to three entering the final period.
Perhaps he would have fared better playing as the team that employs him:
Zach LaVine while playing with the Heat in the NBA2K tourney: “I should’ve just played with the Bulls and shot with me every time.”— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 4, 2020
Can’t see that line getting topped so I’m back to Bulls-Magic, vintage ‘96. #bullsrewind
.@ZachLaVine playing computer D!!— Bobby BP Portis (@BPortistime) April 4, 2020
Alas. The quality of the on-court product in the Ayton-LaVine matchup waxed and mostly waned, with LaVine saying he hadn't played 2K since his rookie year.
But the true entertainment value came from the banter on the side between the two.
It began friendly, with Ayton teaching LaVine how to throw alley-oops (double-tap Y, Zach! come on) followed by LaVine chiding Ayton for a dunk he uncorked on him when Phoenix visited Chicago back in February.
Then, the two took a few moments to appreciate Shaq Harrison — frankly, something all of us can do more of. LaVIne called Harrison "my dog" and fondly recalled a conversation in which Harrison good-naturedly lamented having to guard LaVine in practice in Chicago after being tasked with checking Devin Booker in his time in Phoenix. After spending a year with the Suns, Harrison signed with the Bulls in advance of Ayton's rookie season, but it appears the two are friendly.
The topic of conversation eventually shifted to favorite NBA arenas to play in. Ayton answered Madison Square Garden — a fine choice — while LaVine cited the Sacramento King's old Sleepy Train Arena as a true "shooter's gym." The context to that comment is... Something (albeit completely inocuous).
All the while, Ayton pulled away as LaVine largely spammed contested 3s in the second half. Considering the real-life Bulls' woes in 2019-20, it was all perfectly on the nose. Especially so was LaVine intentionally fouling Ayton, down 16 with five seconds left, to squeeze in an extra possession — though luckily no timeouts were called.
And finally, before signing off, LaVine was sure to make his feelings on participating in the dunk contest once again clear:
Zach LaVine reiterates he’s done with the dunk contest.— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) April 4, 2020
“I didn’t have anything left to prove... Only thing left was that 360 from the free throw line.” Says he’s made it one or two times
Ayton: “That don’t even sound normal, bro.”
Fair enough. LaVine is more than just a dunker. He's also a prolific scorer, clutch late-game performer and near All-Star level player with a tremendous amount of potential.
But if he wants to add '2K star' to that list of distinctions, he'll have to keep hitting the sticks.